I tasted “spoon sweets” for the very first time when I was very young. In our garden my grandfather had planted two apricot trees which made delicious apricots and their stone was as sweet as almonds. Every summer around June, my mother used to pick apricots while they were still hard. The ripe fruit was used by the ladies living in the neighborhood to make delicious jam. I remember my mother doing this job with love and patience. She would wash the apricots, peal them, left them overnight in lime and then placed them carefully in a large heavy pot to cook them. Instead of almonds she would add in the sweet the stones of the apricots which she would break with a wooden hammer. The sweet smell of apricot remains for days at home. And the color of the syrup was so bright…
Aunt Asimina used to make sweet and sour cherries from the trees she had in her yard while grandmother Elenitsa was a specialist in making sweet grape with lots of almonds.
The serving of this particular type of sweets in the 50′s was still a ritual. The jars with the sweets of various fruit were locked in a closet away from the reach of children of the house. The jars appeared whenever there were visitors at home. The “spoon sweet” was served in a special jar with spoons hanging from its neck. Each visitor would take a spoonful of the sweet straight from the jar and serve it on a special crystal plate. Probably the name of this sweet comes from this particular procedure.
“Spoon sweet”! A unique name! I could never find a corresponding name in other languages. The “Spoon sweet” slowly began to lose its primacy in the family houses. As in the 60’s the electric refrigerator found its place in Greek homes, initially in big cities and later in little towns and villages, the ladies of the house turned their interest into more sophisticated sweets based on outlandish ingredients which could be kept in the refrigerator. The “spoon sweet” was put aside and began to be regarded as old fashioned, forgotten by most households even in the country side.
It took long before Greeks remembered the “spoon sweets” again appreciating its unique taste and qualities, as it is much healthier than other greasy desserts. Women’s cooperatives in every part of Greece began to make sweets using a variety of fruit and vegetables, different each season. The “spoon sweet” became fashionable! Fig, quince, small green seville oranges in the summer, Seville oranges in rolls in the winter, apricot, grape, cherry, sour cherry, walnut, bergamot, grapefruit, strawberry but also pumpkin, eggplant, tomatoes, watermelon and whatever you can imagine. Each, with its distinct flavor and color.
I would recommend lemon blossom from the island of Chios and rose petals made in St George Monastery by the lake Doxa, in the Peloponese, both offering unique flavors and tastes.
Starting making my own “spoon sweets” came naturally to me. I have the feeling that by making them I can mark the seasons. Strawberry brings spring; cherry early summer; grape end of summer, beginning of autumn; quince before Christmas; bergamot end of winter; lemon spring is coming again…
I enjoy eating them but I enjoy more the whole procedure of making them. It is a real task to find the right fruit every season, cook it as long as needed, no more no less, try to make the syrup as thick as needed, find the right size of jars and at the end admire the jars full of colorful syrups, trimmed, with the little hats, made of small round pieces of cloth matching the colour of the syrup, tied with suitable ribbon or kipper and always with the label, indicating the date of making.
I like to offer “spoon sweets” as dessert, using crystal plates like those old ones. My good friend Maria bought me a half dozen from an old fashioned store in her home town, Sparta! I prepare lemon sweet using the recipe of my friend Koula, Seville oranges and sour cherry based on neighbors’ recipes and many many others using different recipes. It’s only sweet apricot that I never dared to make. Perhaps because the apricot trees are no longer in the garden, the apricots I buy in the market don’t have “sweet stones” or rather because I forgot to ask my mother to give me her recipe.